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Tech Talk: technical and strategic analysis of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Maranello 14 December 2020

A disappointing end to an equally disappointing season, yesterday at the Yas Marina circuit, a track that has never suited the Scuderia. As usual, we asked Iñaki Rueda, Head of Race Strategy to tell us how the weekend went, particularly on the strategy front. “Pirelli chose the same tyres as last year for the final round, so we had a lot of data to refer to in preparing for the weekend. Usually at this track, the Softs suffer from graining so we aimed to avoid using them for the race. That’s why making the cut to Q3 on the Mediums was our main aim in qualifying, especially with Charles, who had to take a grid penalty handed out at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Thanks to a great lap in Q2, Charles managed it, while Seb was less comfortable on the Mediums and tried to get as far up the grid as possible, doing a second decisive run in Q2 on the Softs. In the end, given that Charles didn’t have the same feeling in Q3 that he had on the Softs in Q1, we found ourselves with the drivers on 12th and 13th places on the grid.”

What scenarios were available to us for the race?

“The race at Yas Marina is usually a one-stop and this year was no exception. With Seb we opted for a very long first stint, starting on the only set of Hards he had in the hope of benefiting from a softer, newer tyre than those around him towards the end. Charles starting on the Mediums gave us a slightly greater degree of flexibility, allowing us to stop earlier or later to switch to Hards.”

How did the race evolve? What was the key moment?

“On the opening lap, Seb managed to overtake Charles and both were behind the two Renaults when Sergio Perez parked in the final sector (lap 9) which brought out the Safety Car. Pitting was not an option for Seb as it would have put him on a two stop strategy, although we did consider it for Charles. In the end we decided to keep him out because if most of the main rivals had also stopped, we would still have been in traffic. So it was better to try and do something different and when we realised that Esteban Ocon was pitting, we did the opposite. That moved us quite a way up the order but we knew it was only temporary: at that point it all hung on how much the others might struggle with their worn tyres at the end.”

Our pit stops were therefore later than most.

“Charles was the first to stop on lap 22. With the Hards and a reasonably clear track he was immediately 1.3 seconds quicker than the midfield and looked in with a chance of finishing in the points, given there were still 33 laps to go. Seb’s stop was on lap 35, with 20 still to go on a set of Mediums. He too was very quick at the start of his stint – almost 2 seconds compared to the midfield runners and so it looked as though he too might have been able to get up into the points. However, overtaking is never easy on this track, even with a quicker car and, particularly in traffic, the tyres were overheating a lot. It meant that both Seb and Charles at some point found themselves with no more margin to pass those ahead and our chances of getting into the top ten evaporated.”

For this final race, there was another opportunity to test the Pirelli tyre for next year.

“Yes, in FP2 on Friday afternoon, we were able to test a tyre that equated to the Medium one at this event. As expected, lap times with it were slower but that was to be expected. Pirelli is doing a good job of producing tyres that are more resilient and can be run at lower pressures than the current ones. The most important thing was to acquire data to help us adapt next year’s car to these tyres and we succeeded in doing that.”